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IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded11 June 1992; 32 years ago (1992-06-11)[2]
Frequent-flyer programSkybucks[citation needed]
Fleet size68
HeadquartersJohannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Key peopleRodger Foster (CEO)

Airlink, (previously known as South African Airlink) is a regional airline based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Its main business is to provide services between smaller, under-served towns and larger hub airports. It has since expanded to offer flights on larger, mainline routes. The airline has a network of more than 60 routes to over 45 destinations in Southern Africa.[4][5] In January 2021, it became the second-largest carrier within Africa by number of flights, and third-largest by number of seats.[6]


Early years[edit]

Airlink was formed in 1992 by business partners Rodger Foster and Barrie Webb, following the purchase of the liquidated Link Airways business,[7] which had incorporated a range of other airlines: Midlands Aviation (founded in 1967), Lowveld Aviation Services, Magnum Airways, Border Air and Citi Air. The new airline was named Airlink.[8]

In 1995, SA Airlink officially launched on 25 March at a gathering of important guests, including Queen Elizabeth II. Later that year, the airline aligned its branding with that of South African Airways and joined their Voyager frequent-flyer programme.[9] In 1997, SA Airlink further strengthened their partnership with South African Airways, and joined both SAA and South African Express in a strategic alliance. This alliance and partnership created the biggest airline network in Africa. The alliance was governed by a franchise agreement, which saw SA Airlink adopt the "South African" brand identity and become South African Airlink.[9] In 1999, South African Airlink entered into a joint venture with the government of Swaziland (now Eswatini) to create a new airline[9] to replace the defunct Royal Swazi National Airways. The airline was called Swaziland Airlink and was split 60% to the Swaziland government and 40% to South African Airlink. In August 2000, the strategic alliance with South African Airways was further strengthened as a bilateral partnership.[9]

A former South African Airlink Boeing 737-200 in 2007
A former Airlink BAe 146-200 in 2015

In 2006, South African Airlink exited the strategic alliance with South African Airways and entered into a franchise agreement,[9] dropping the "South African" branding from their name, but retaining a similar colour scheme. SA Airlink introduced their unique Sunbird logo as part of the new branding. In February 2008, SA Airlink successfully completed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA),[9] and was placed on the IATA registry with code "4Z". On 23 December 2009, the SA Civil Aviation Authority grounded their fleet of 13 BAe Jetstream 41 planes.[10][11] Following audits of the airline's procedures and inspection of the grounded aircraft, they were returned to service. A problem with a seal in the aircraft's Honeywell engines was found to be the cause of safety issues.[12]

In 2016, SA Airlink signed an agreement with the government of Madagascar to operate scheduled domestic air services within it, and regional air services to and from the island. The airline also established a training centre in partnership with Embraer at their headquarters in Bonaero Park, Johannesburg.[9] On 3 May 2017, Airlink became the first airline in history to make a commercial charter flight to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, landing a BAe Avro RJ-85 at the newly constructed Saint Helena Airport to pick up passengers stranded there when the island's only link with the outside world, the British Royal Mail Ship RMS St Helena, suffered propeller damage.[13]

No other commercial airliner landed at St Helena until 14 October 2017, when Airlink began history's first scheduled commercial airline service to Saint Helena Airport, with an Embraer E190 with 78 passengers aboard arriving after a flight of about six hours from Johannesburg, with a stop at Walvis Bay, Namibia.[citation needed] The flight began a once-a-week scheduled service between Johannesburg and Saint Helena.[13]

In 2018, SA Airlink and FlySafair concluded negotiations for a merger. The application was turned down by the South African Competition Commission on the basis that it believed that regional airline SA Airlink and low-cost carrier FlySafair were competitors. The matter was referred to the Tribunal, but the application was withdrawn as the shareholders' objectives of both companies had changed.[9] In 2019, SA Airlink expanded its training centre in cooperation with Embraer to house both an Embraer E190 and an Embraer ERJ-145 full flight simulator.[9]

In 2020, SA Airlink changed its name from SA Airlink to Airlink. The change was made to distinguish the company as an independent airline. Airlink ended its 23-year old franchise agreement with South African Airways in the early part of 2020. It has been operating and issuing tickets under its own 4Z ticket stock instead of South African Airways' SA code since then, and signed its own interline agreements with six other carriers.[14] On 12 November 2020, Airlink unveiled a new livery,[9] dropping any similarities to the South African Airways brand and incorporating the Sunbird logo set against sunrise colours as the main focal point of the new tail insignia. The first aircraft to sport the design were scheduled to fly during the December holiday season in 2020.[citation needed] In January 2021, Airlink became the third largest carrier within Africa by number of seats offered, and second largest by number of flights scheduled. This is mainly due to Airlink's use of lower capacity aircraft and the opening up of new markets due to the decline of South African Airways.[6]

In March 2022, Airlink committed to a commercial partnership with Federal Airlines, to operate its Lodgelink flights in the Lowveld. The flights connect from either Kruger International or Skukuza to lodges within the Lowveld and Northern KwaZulu Natal. In September 2022, Airlink acquired a 40% stake, labelled a strategic equity holding, in Namibian airline FlyNamibia for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition will have FlyNamibia adopt Airlink's "4Z" flight designation. Airlink will also provide technical and commercial training to FlyNamibia staff.[15][16]

Corporate affairs[edit]


Airlink is privately owned, but has published the names of its shareholders:[17]

  • Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust (32.51%)
  • Coronation Capital
  • SA Airlink Investments (Rodger Foster)
  • Barrie Webb
  • South African Airways (2.96%)

Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust, via its subsidiary Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust Investment Holdings, acquired a 32.51% stake in the company in June 2012.[7] The original founders, Airlink, Rodger Foster and Barrie Webb,[7] remain shareholders.

Head office[edit]

Airlink's head office is in the 3rd office block of the Greenstone Office Park in the Greenstone Hill suburb of Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, South Africa.[18]



Airlink announced that its loyalty programme would be launched on 1 March 2023. This comes after numerous customer suggestions to be rewarded for their loyalty to Airlink, which left the Southern-African airline overwhelmed.[citation needed]

The frequent flyer program will include 3 membership tiers, with eligibility determined by the number of sectors or legs of a journey flown in 12 months. A regular return flight from Johannesburg's OR Tambo to Durban's King Shaka which comprises two sectors.

SLOW Lounge[edit]

Since August 2022 Airlink's premium and qualifying passengers travelling on its domestic and regional flights, have access to SLOW lounges at Johannesburg's, Cape Town's and Durban's international airports.[19]


As of May 2024, Airlink serves the following destinations:

Country City Airport Notes Refs
Angola Luanda Quatro de Fevereiro Airport [20]
Botswana Gaborone Sir Seretse Khama International Airport [21]
Kasane Kasane Airport [22]
Maun Maun Airport [22]
Democratic Republic of the Congo Lubumbashi Lubumbashi International Airport [23]
Eswatini Manzini King Mswati III International Airport [24]
Kenya Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport [25]
Lesotho Maseru Moshoeshoe I International Airport [26]
Madagascar Antananarivo Ivato International Airport
Nosy Be Fascene Airport [27]
Mozambique Beira Beira Airport
Maputo Maputo International Airport
Nampula Nampula Airport
Pemba Pemba Airport
Tete Chingozi Airport
Vilanculos Vilankulo Airport [28]
Namibia Walvis Bay Walvis Bay Airport [29]
Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Georgetown RAF Ascension Island [30]
Jamestown Saint Helena Airport [31]
South Africa Arathusa Safari Lodge Arathusa Safari Lodge Airstrip Lodge Link service
Bloemfontein Bram Fischer International Airport
Cape Town Cape Town International Airport Hub
Durban King Shaka International Airport
East London King Phalo Airport
Gqeberha Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport
George George Airport
Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport
Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport Hub
Kimberley Kimberley Airport
Londolozi Game Reserve Londolozi Aerodrome Lodge Link service
Mbombela Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
Mthatha Mthatha Airport
Ngala Safari Lodge Ngala Airport Lodge Link service
Phinda Game Reserve Phinda Airfield Lodge Link service
Pietermaritzburg Pietermaritzburg Airport
Polokwane Polokwane International Airport
Richards Bay Richards Bay Airport
Sishen Sishen Airport [32]
Skukuza Skukuza Airport [33]
Ulusaba Game Reserve Ulusaba Airport Lodge Link service
Upington Upington Airport
Tanzania Dar es Salaam Julius Nyerere International Airport
Uganda Entebbe Entebbe International Airport (discontinued on 28 August 2023)[34] [35]
Zambia Livingstone Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport
Lusaka Kenneth Kaunda International Airport
Ndola Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport
Zimbabwe Bulawayo Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport
Harare Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport
Victoria Falls Victoria Falls Airport
Malawi Lilongwe Lilongwe International Airport
Blantyre Chileka International Airport

Interline agreements, Codeshares and Partnerships[edit]

Since ending its partnership with SAA in 2020, Airlink interlines and codeshares with the following airlines:


Current fleet[edit]

As of May 2024, Airlink operates the following aircraft:[42][43]

Aircraft In service Orders Passengers Notes Refs
C Y Total
Embraer ERJ-135 16 37 37 [citation needed]
Embraer ERJ-140 11 44 44 [citation needed]
Embraer E170 2 6 68 74
Embraer E175 1
Embraer E190 28 6 92 98 [citation needed]
Embraer E195 6 11 96 107 [citation needed]
Total 65

Historical fleet[edit]

Airlink has previously operated the following aircraft:[citation needed]

Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
ATR 42-300 3 1992 1995
Avro RJ85 12 2008 2019
BAe 146-200 4 2007 2013
BAe Jetstream 41 16 1995 2023
Boeing 737-200 1 2006 2007 Leased from Safair
Cessna 208B 5 2015 2022 [44]
Dornier 228-100 1 1993 1997
Dornier 228-200 1 1995 1997
Embraer ERJ-145 2 2012 2018 ZS-DFA leased from NAC
Fokker F28-4000 3 2003 2005 Leased from AirQuarius
Swearingen Merlin II 3 1992 1997

Incidents and accidents[edit]

  • On 24 September 2009, Airlink Flight 8911, a BAe Jetstream 41 ZS-NRM on a positioning flight from Durban International Airport to Pietermaritzburg Airport crashed into the grounds of Merebank Secondary School, Durban shortly after takeoff. The crew declared an emergency, reporting loss of engine power and smoke coming from the rear of the aircraft. The pilots ditched the aircraft on the sports field of the school, avoiding hitting nearby residential areas.[45] The school was closed due to it being a public holiday. All three crew members and one person on the ground were injured.[46][47] The captain, Allister Freeman, later died as a result of complications from his injuries on 7 October 2009.[11]
  • On 7 December 2009, Airlink Flight 8625, an Embraer ERJ-135 ZS-SJW overran the runway on landing in wet weather at George Airport. No fatalities were reported. The flight was cleared for an Instrument landing (ILS) approach and prevailing weather conditions at the time were overcast with light rain. The landing appeared normal, however the aircraft did not vacate the runway but instead veered to the right and collided with approach lights before it burst through the airport's perimeter fence, coming to rest in a nose-down attitude on a public road. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.[48][49][50] The crew were unable to stop the aircraft due to ineffective braking of the aircraft on the wet runway surface. Two months before the accident the runway was treated with a fog sealant. The day of the accident was the first rain experienced since the runway treatment. The new surface caused a degradation of the surface friction and promoted the formation of pooling. After touch down, the aircraft immediately started aquaplaning and the crew veered to the right to prevent a collision with the localiser antenna. The runway was found non-compliant with ICAO annexe 14 and was subsequently resurfaced.[51] Airlink's insurers took legal action against the state-owned Airports Company of South Africa.[52]
  • On November 8, 2017, Airlink Flight 8103, an Avro 146-RJ85A, registered ZS-ASW, took off from Harare International Airport bound for Tambo International Airport. 38 minutes into the flight, the number 2 engine suffered an Uncontained Engine Failure that hurled fragments into the No. 1 engine, causing it to fail. The aircraft safely landed at Makhado Airforce Base. The failure was caused by a dislodged retaining nut, resulting in the turbine disk coming off the shaft. [53]


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External links[edit]

Media related to South African Airlink at Wikimedia Commons